The Vow of the Nazirite: A Call to Holiness
Numbers 6:1-21 November 2, 1997
Holiness is a priceless commodity sought throughout human history by those seriously seeking God. Strangely, it is found only by those who have discovered that it is indeed priceless - that it cannot be bought. It cannot be bought because God cannot be bought - holiness comes from God by grace. But it also takes the effort of man in response to the call of God to desire that grace and come into its fullness. The heart of man seems to have innate knowledge that God is holy, and that he himself is not, and that he must become holy in order to please God.
1Pe 1:15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;
1Pe 1:16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
Le 20:7 "'Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God.
Le 20:8 Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.
But just what is holiness anyway, what effect does it have, and how do we get it?
1. Holiness is the cutting edge of purity.
2. Holiness is shooting for perfection.
3. Holiness is the power of God in our behalf.
4. Holiness is preventive maintenance against sin.
5. Holiness holds promise of God’s desired effect.
6. Holiness is righteousness in Christ alone.
7. Holiness is believing and using our foundation in Christ.
In Num. 6:1-21, we see the O.T. account of what man must do to if he wanted to become especially holy. God laid a foundation of rules and regulations for those that desired to be especially devoted and consecrated to him, at least for a time, by taking the vow of the Nazirite. I believe the Nazirite vow has application for us as Christians today if we study it in context and make the transition to our present circumstance.
No one knows the origin of the Nazirite vow - it probably proceeded from antiquity in man’s search for godliness. Here in Numbers, God through Moses does not initiate it but defines and regulates it. The ideal of purity and holiness through separation and consecration was the object of legislation here to consider the behavior of individuals rather than the community as a whole. This was not just a vow of personal self-discipline but an act of total devotion to the Lord. It was a vow that could be made for your life from birth by either your parents or by God, or one you could make yourself for a certain period of time. The minimum period of a Nazirite vow according to Hebrew tradition was 30 days. It could be made by either men or women. But the vow of a woman or daughter was subject to the husband or father in her life (Num. 30:6-8).
Although such separated persons were allowed to participate in community life, they were required to exhibit a particular type of sanctification governed by specific rules. The OT contains no record of ever requiring anyone to take such a vow, but if taken, it was to be taken seriously since it is a voluntary agreement between man and God.
All vows must be made with great caution.
Pr 20:25 ¶ It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows. (i.e. Samson who finally came to God as he was blindsided in a rockslide)
It was a serious means of identifying with Him in a life of worship and service. It was a period of spiritual dedication - like volunteering for a tour of duty in military service. The basic provisions of the Nazirite vow was a life visibly set apart from the culture of the day by diet (no wine or grape products could be consumed), appearance (the hair could not be cut), and associations (anyone dead was off limits).
There are several notable examples of the Nazirite calling for life or by temporary vow in both the Old and New Testaments.
Samson Judges 13:2-6 From birth for life by angelic decree
Samuel 1Sam. 1:9-11,17 From birth for life by parental request
John Baptist Luke 1:11-15 From birth for life by angelic decree
(all the above born to previously barren women)
Recabites Jer. 35:1-7 Permanent vow taken by entire clan
(related to Kenites and Midianites thru Moses’ father-in-law)
Paul Acts 18:18; 21:22-24,26 Temporary vow
Jesus Mt. 2:23; 11:19 Nazarene but not a Nazirite
We can see support by God for the Nazirite vow in Amos:
Am 2:11 I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men. Is this not true, people of Israel?" declares the LORD.
Am 2:12 "But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.
We can also see a New Testament parallel in the requirements of the Jerusalem Council upon the Gentiles in Acts 21:25.
Ac 21:22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come,
Ac 21:23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow.
Ac 21:24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.
Ac 21:25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality."
Ac 21:26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
Let us take a closer look at Numbers 6:1-21 and how it might relate to our present day context of being Christians in a fallen world in deep need of a holy witness.
I. The Vow Described (6:1-8)
A. The Basic Prohibition About Wine (6:1-4)
1 ¶ The LORD said to Moses,
2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite,
3 he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins.
4 As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.
In the culture of that day, almost everyone drank wine. It was even somewhat necessary due to the impurity of many water supplies. To not drink wine was a very identifiable stand for God that was understood by the culture. This is also the case in our present day where alcohol flows freely and is an integral part of every worldly social function. The one who abstains stands apart, and when it is inquired as to why, the cause is discovered in the honor of God. In a sense, it is also a protest of rampant alcoholism that destroys morality and God-consciousness. Here we see also that not even any grape products may be consumed. The holy man or woman of the day was to be so devoted that they couldn’t even “smell the cork” as it were. If we are to separate ourselves from something that may entice us, we cannot afford to trifle with it. This is true of any thing that would be sin to the one who would be holy. We should be careful what we take in to our bodies, being careful that our diet does not defile us and defame God. (But note here that the Nazirite vow contained nothing that treated the body harshly - it was not ascetic. Those things had no value in restraining sensual indulgence, Col. 2:21-23.)
Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
1Co 6:10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Eph 5:3 ¶ But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.
1Th 5:22 Avoid every kind of evil.
B. The Basic Prohibition About Hair (6:5)
5 "'During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long.
The hair is a product of the body that crowns the head. At least for women, it is their crowning glory (1Cor. 11:15). Men usually wore their hair short and women long, but in this vow, neither was to cut their hair from the time the vow was taken. Women with already long hair probably did not put it up for the period of the vow. Here the Nazirite was set apart by appearance as well as diet. Wouldn’t it be interesting in our present culture if those with long hair were holy instead of rebellious. But in that culture it set them apart from pagan devotees who shaved the head in patterns much like we see among our youth today. The holy man or woman today would be set apart by a clean cut and wholesome appearance that goes along with his diet or intake. Our culture would not recognize a sloppy person as being holy.
But here the length of the hair indicated both the nature and the length of the allegiance to God in holiness since the hair grew during the time of the vow. The head where the spirit resides was consecrated to God. The Nazirite was set apart from the expected norm of the day by his appearance, caring more for his acceptance by God than by men. But in appearing well to God he also appeared well to those who would recognize holiness.
Ga 1:10 ¶ Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
1Th 2:4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.
It is interesting to note in scripture that shaving the head was a sign of deep grief and mourning as when one feels separated from God. The Naziritie was to be in intimate communion with God, enjoying his fellowship. There was no place for grief in this holy service. His hair was a sign of his consecration and devoted to God. The longer the hair, the more extensive the devotion.
Mic 1:16 Shave your heads in mourning for the children in whom you delight; make yourselves as bald as the vulture, for they will go from you into exile.
Jer 7:29 ¶ Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the LORD has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath.
Job 1:20 ¶ At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship
It can also be noted that the word for ‘diadem’ in the ceremony of clothing the priests is the same root as it is for ‘Nazirite’. The diadem is sacred or holy as a crown and is related to the holiness of hair as a crown devoted to God.
Ex 29:6 Put the turban on his head and attach the sacred diadem to the turban.
So hair was used as a symbol of crowning glory offered to God. This has great importance for the Christian. Our service and devotion to God is obtaining a crown that will last forever and that we may offer to him in heaven, even ourselves.
1Co 9:25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
1Th 2:19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?
2Ti 4:8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
1Pe 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Re 2:10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Re 3:11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
Re 4:4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.
Re 4:10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
C. The Basic Prohibition About Dead Bodies (6:6-8)
6 Throughout the period of his separation to the LORD he must not go near a dead body.
7 Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head.
8 Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.
Not only is the Nazirite separated by diet and appearance, but also by association. He cannot be in the presence of a dead body. This may be representative of dead works, the works of sin. Sinful things may sometimes be quite close to us even as close relatives. The holy man or woman is to have no part with sin. In our present culture we can be recognized as Christians by who and what we associate with. But here certainly one would be taken notice of if he did not attend the funeral of a family member. Certainly his association with God is to take precedence.
Mt 10:37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
Mt 8:21 Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
Mt 8:22 But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
2Co 6:17 "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you."
2Co 7:1 ¶ Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
An association with a dead body would defile the Nazirite’s hair that has been devoted to God. In our case, association with sin would defile our witness.
1. We must be distinguished from others in the world.
2. We must keep our conscience from dead works. The greater profession of religion we make, the more eminent we appear, the greater care we must make to avoid all sin, for we have much more to lose.
3. We must be moderate in our affections even for near relatives so as to not let sorrow for them impede our joy in God and submission to his will.
4. We have died with Christ and shall not return to our former way of life. No matter how close what has died was to me I must desire to follow Christ more. To be anointed as a Nazirite must take precedence over all other circumstances.
II. Provisions Concerning Defilement (6:9-12)
The Specific Prohibition About Accidental Death
9 "'If someone dies suddenly in his presence, thus defiling the hair he has dedicated, he must shave his head on the day of his cleansing-- the seventh day.
10 Then on the eighth day he must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
11 The priest is to offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for him because he sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day he is to consecrate his head.
12 He must dedicate himself to the LORD for the period of his separation and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because he became defiled during his separation.
It may also be that we can be blind-sided by sin as if by accident. Defilement can, in a sense, be dropped on us so easily we must maintain vigilance against sin. In any case, if the Nazirite’s consecration was defiled, he had to start over. So too the witness of the Christian in the world’s eyes. If we defile ourselves by dead works we must start our separation over.
Eze 33:13 If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done.
Ga 3:3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
Ga 3:4 Have you suffered so much for nothing-- if it really was for nothing?
Sin makes us lose time. It takes a long time to build a reputation and only one act to destroy it. Note here that if the Nazirite is defiled, he must make offering, it shall cost him, and atonement must be made for him. For the Christian, we seek forgiveness in the atoning sacrifice of Christ and begin again. Christ pays the penalty for us, but our witness may compromised until our holy calling is once again confirmed.
III. Discharging of Vows (6:13-20)
The Ritual for Completion of the Vow
13 "'Now this is the law for the Nazirite when the period of his separation is over. He is to be brought to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
14 There he is to present his offerings to the LORD: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering,
15 together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made without yeast-- cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil, and wafers spread with oil.
16 "'The priest is to present them before the LORD and make the sin offering and the burnt offering.
17 He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the LORD, together with its grain offering and drink offering.
18 "'Then at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that he dedicated. He is to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.
19 "'After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair of his dedication, the priest is to place in his hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and a cake and a wafer from the basket, both made without yeast.
20 The priest shall then wave them before the LORD as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine.
Note here that to complete the vow, the Nazirite must make a sin offering. Even the most devout must acknowledge that he is not without sin. These offerings were costly for that day. Since there was such cost to discharge the vow, it must not be entered into lightly. Perhaps there was even incentive here to make the vow a lifetime commitment.
1. The burnt offering acknowledged God’s sovereign dominion over him.
2. The sin offering acknowledged his imperfection in attainment and promoted humility.
3. The peace offering was for grace to preserve him from ever doing anything unbecoming having been a Nazirite to acknowledge that he is still under the bonds of divine law - in our case grace.
The cut hair is like placing the crown - the testimony built - at the feet of God.
IV. Summary (6:21)
The Summary of the Nazirite Vow
21 "'This is the law of the Nazirite who vows his offering to the LORD in accordance with his separation, in addition to whatever else he can afford. He must fulfill the vow he has made, according to the law of the Nazirite.'"
The freewill offering acknowledged that God owns it all anyway.
A. The Nazirite Vow in Counseling
B. Nov. 1997 Family News, Focus on the Family
1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1Pe 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1Pe 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
1Pe 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Ro 12:1 ¶ Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship.
1Co 3:16 ¶ Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?
Mt 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The Nazirite is, in the modern day, the Christian in the image of Christ. For the Christian, the Nazirite vow is the vow of complete devotion to Jesus Christ the Nazarene. He alone is the source of holiness and our acceptance and peace with God.